TORONTO — Jorge Alfaro has the word "Believe" tattooed on the inside of his left wrist, perhaps offering the Phillies catcher something to cling to as the season feels to be fading away.
Nick Pivetta, after allowing five runs in an 8-6 loss to the Blue Jays, said the Phillies would respond. And when the Phillies blew yet another lead, Gabe Kapler said his team still has the ability to win a division title.
The Phillies have lost six of their last seven games and 12 of their last 18. They have held leads in five straight games yet have finished only one of them with a win. They trail Atlanta by just 3 1/2 games but the fuel that helped the Phillies make a surprising run to contention seems to be running out.
A summer that began with an improbable run to first place has now turned frustrating. The Phillies have lost when their lineup fails to hit. And they have lost — like Saturday — when the lineup produced. The Phillies are clinging to the tough stretches and rough nights they have recovered from throughout this season. But a rough stretch in August feels a bit different from a difficult West Coast trip in May.
"It doesn't matter how many times you fall. It's how many times you stand up and keep going forward," Alfaro said. "We know that we're going to get out of this. We have confidence in ourselves. I trust my teammates. I trust my team. We're going to get out of this and we're going to fight for first place."
The Phillies handed Pivetta 5-0 and 6-3 leads on Saturday. But both of those margins were too close to feel comfortable. Pivetta allowed five runs in 6 2/3 innings. He struck out four, walked three, and allowed two homers. The second homer — a two-run shot in the seventh by lefthanded hitter Billy McKinney — came after Kapler opted to stay with Pivetta instead of bringing in reliever Luis Avilan.
"Baseball, in general, is a frustrating game, but what separates the good teams is the way they come out of these stretches and light a fire underneath them," Pivetta said. "We come out and do the best we can every single day. It's the way we're going to respond to this little stretch here that's really going to show."
Roman Quinn went 2 for 4 with two hits in a start for the fourth-straight time. Rhys Hoskins drove in three runs and Asdrubal Cabrera went 3 for 5 after having just three hits in his previous 28 at-bats. The Phillies lineup, which had plagued them, was not the problem, producing 13 hits.
Kapler lifted Pivetta after he walked the next batter following McKinney's home run. Seranthony Dominguez escaped the seventh, but then loaded the bases in the eighth. Kapler called on Victor Arano, who struck out the first batter he faced before allowing a three-run double to Aledmys Diaz.
On the base-clearing blast, Odubel Herrera ran toward the center-field fence, but he knew there was no play to be made on Diaz' line drive. It rocketed into the wall and Diaz strolled into second base. There was nothing Herrera could do and the Phillies are fiding themselves in a similar predicament, running out of time to find ways to stop a season from fading away.